Move over Love Actually…
Gosh, I absolutely loved this!
Granted, as someone who is marrying a man who lives in Europe, I might be a bit biased based on the plot of this novel, but hey, who cares?!
Duke, Actually is the follow-up to Jenny Holiday’s novel, A Princess for Christmas. This time we follow Dani and Max, the best friends of the couple in the original novel. You do not need to read the first one at all to enjoy this as everything is easily explained backstory-wise. Dani is a University professor going through an emotional divorce after her husband leaves her for an ex-student who is far younger than either of them. Dani is trying to put on a brave face at school because she’s up for tenure, but having to deal with her ex as well as the judgment of those around her has her a bit on edge. Also, her best friend Leo has moved to Europe to marry the Princess, Marie, as depicted in A Princess for Christmas, so she’s a little lonely despite writing off men.
Enter Max, a baron and Marie’s initial love interest. Max and Marie are BFF and were planning to marry as friends until she met Leo, so now Max is a bit on the outs as his family is pressuring him to marry. He has no interest in his family, as his father is an abusive alcoholic, but takes much of the burden as possible so his brother, Sebastian, can live a bit more freely. This, of course, does not work the way he wants it to.
Max is in NYC, Dani is there, and they agree to meet up as they know one another. Max has a reputation for being a playboy, Dani has sworn off all men that don’t meet the criteria of her self-made list, and the two decide to become friends. They hit it off well and the chemistry is fantastic between them. From their first meeting, you’re rooting for them to get together.
Of course, the novel has its roadblocks and they can’t get together right away, but Holiday does a great job at establishing them as friends, confidants, and romantic partners. They both are a bit bitter and hurt from previous relationships and find it hard to show vulnerability, but they’re able to open up to one another in very natural ways. I love that Dani is a strong, driven woman of color who has let things she wants fall to the side because of love and is now trying to figure out who she is as a person on her own. It reads incredibly honestly, and she was a character a think a lot of women in their 30s can relate to. Max was hot as hell, witty and fun, while also allowing himself to grow and not assuming he knows everything in all situations.
The couple is very well matched, very equal in terms of life status (yes, Max is royalty but Dani has a doctorate and is a professional), and have such wonderful chemistry you can’t stop reading. I absolutely love Christmas romances and this one knocked it out of the park for me. This deserves to be a great Christmas movie, not just a half-assed adaptation for Hallmark. It’s really lovely and everything you wished those Prince Christmas movies on Netflix lived up to. A very fun read!
*Thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review*
Title: Duke, Actually
Author: Jenny Holiday
Three Descriptors: Spirited, Witty, Banter-filled dialogue,
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